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Pressure is on Don Mattingly as manager of Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly watches during

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly watches during a baseball spring training workout in Phoenix. (Feb. 22, 2012) Credit: AP

The Yankees lost the World Series, in six games to the Dodgers, right before Don Mattingly began his rookie season in 1982.

Fourteen years later, the season immediately after Mattingly's retirement, the Yankees finally returned to the Fall Classic, where they rallied to upset the Braves for their 23rd world championship and first since 1978.

As cruel a fate as that seemed for one of the most beloved players to ever wear pinstripes, it would get worse. After the Yankees' dynastic run of four titles in five years concluded in 2000, Mattingly joined Joe Torre's staff as the hitting coach in 2004 -- with the team fresh off a World Series loss to the surprising Marlins.

It wasn't until Mattingly left again, this time joining Torre as the bench coach in Los Angeles, that the Yankees won No. 27 in 2009.

A cursed Bronx captain? Perhaps. But as Mattingly prepares to begin his third season as the Dodgers' manager, the L.A. franchise feels more like the Yankees than the Yankees do these days -- with free-spending owners, an appetite for stars and a more demanding audience in Hollywood.

"Our guys are going to have to be ready for the questions," Mattingly said this past week at the winter meetings in Nashville. "I can hear the fans now. Early in the year last year, when our club would be somewhere, you'd hear one comment. As we started getting our payroll changed and got all the [new] guys, the comments were totally different.

"You'd hear people yelling, and all of a sudden it was like, 'These overpaid, spoiled . . .' And I'm like, wow, really?

"I think that's part of the expectation. That's part of the reality. It's the way it's going to be. So we might as well be ready for it and ready to take it head-on."

In May, the Dodgers were sold for $2 billion to a group featuring Magic Johnson as its frontman. In the next three months, they acquired Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in two deals that put L.A. on the hook for nearly $300 million in salary.

The Dodgers' 2013 payroll stood at $198 million (the half-completed Yankees roster is at $168 million) even before they reportedly reached agreement with Zack Greinke on a six-year, $147-million deal last night. They also paid a posting fee of $25.7 million to negotiate with Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin, but the two sides have yet to strike a deal.

Just like that, Mattingly finds himself in charge of a Steinbrenner-esque stable of stars. And the pressure will be enormous, just as it is in the Bronx.

"It's tough to win the whole thing," Mattingly said. "A lot of things have to go your way. [In New York], the payroll was huge. If you didn't win it all, you had a bad year. That's kind of tough to live in. I don't think we can think like that."

Mattingly can try not to. But everyone else will.

National treasure

Davey Johnson turns 70 next month, and after announcing this will be his final season managing in D.C., the Nationals have a ready-made rallying cry heading into 2013.

"World Series or bust, that's probably the slogan this year," Johnson said. "But I'm comfortable with that."

It's been a while. Johnson, who won two rings (1966, '70) playing for the Orioles, has reached the Fall Classic only once as a manager, famously with the world champion 1986 Mets, a trip that forever granted him icon status in New York.

Johnson guided the Orioles to consecutive ALCS losses during the '95-96 seasons, and October's NLDS loss to the Cardinals was his first trip back to the playoffs since then. He went 40-43 as a midseason replacement in 2011, and Johnson's Nats won 98 games in 2012. Now it's about unfinished business.

"Shoot, I thought it was my last year 10 years ago," Johnson said. "But I really like the challenge. We came so far, and I've been with clubs where we made progress like the New York Mets when I first came in, and we won 90 games, then 98, then 108. I think our organization, we're primed to take the next step.

"Normally, it takes longer. We made giant steps last year. I think we're in a perfect position to show the world we're a pretty damn good ballclub."

Classic Joe

Joe Torre will return to the dugout this March as manager of the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic. It's been two years since Torre handed over the reins to Don Mattingly in L.A., but don't mistake this cameo as an audition to get back in the majors.

"I've been asked many times since I've retired if I miss it, and I really can't say that I have," Torre said. "The whole thing about it: It's exciting when you win but it's devastating when you lose. And the devastation got a little bit too much."

Apparently, as Torre, 72, implied, handling players for a full 162-game season did, too. The brief three-week format of the WBC feels about right for him.

"At my age, it's like having your grandchildren," Torre said, "and then at the end of three weeks, you turn them back over to their parents."

Darling stars in relief role

After the date of Shannon Forde's fundraiser had to be rescheduled because of superstorm Sandy, Ron Darling -- the MC for that night -- moved his own charity event to accommodate the switch. As a result, the former Met will host the Ron Darling Foundation's third annual Poker and Casino Night on Thursday at Leonard's on Northern Boulevard in Great Neck.

The proceeds from the event will benefit those who suffered losses from superstorm Sandy.

Call 516-466-6620 for more information.

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